Most drivers are aware that it is illegal to operate a motorized vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs or if their blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is above the legal limit of 0.08%. Individuals are less aware that it is also illegal to operate a boat, which is considered a “motorized vehicle,” if they are impaired by alcohol and drugs. In fact, all states have law enforcement officers who can stop boats and verify that the operators are safely operating the motor craft on the water.
Why the concern for water safety? It is estimated that most of the fatal boating accidents involve drugs or alcohol. In fact, the U.S. Guard reports that if drivers are boating under the influence of alcohol or drugs this can increase incidence of boating deaths by 34%. Factors which may increase the risk of alcohol consumption and boating can include the boater’s age, weight, the sun, the noise of the boat and amount of food the driver has consumed.
Keep in mind some states may charge you with BUI if you are operating some types of water crafts which are not motorized including fishing boats, sailboats, yachts, personal watercrafts, or sailboards.
Penalties for Boating Under the Influence (BUI)
Although the illegal limit for alcohol consumption is 0.08% when driving, some states allow a slightly higher limit (such as 0.1%) for operating a boat. Because state laws vary it is important to understand your state’s laws prior to operating a boat and to contact a DUI lawyer if you have been arrested for BUI. Additionally, although the illegal limit may be 0.08%, if you are unable to safely operate your boat at a lower level it may be possible for the state to prove you were intoxicated with a lower BAC, especially if there is additional evidence of intoxication.
Like a DWI or DUI charge, most BUI charges are considered misdemeanors. If you are convicted of BUI you could face up to one year in jail and a fine of $1,000. As with felony DUI charges, if you are under the influence while you are operating a boat and you injure or kill another person this can be considered a felony offense and you could face up to ten years in prison and very high fines. You may also be required to take alcohol and drug safety education programs.
Consider also that if you are a minor many states have BUI laws which will make it illegal for you to have any alcohol in your system. Some states also make it illegal for minors who are under the influence to water ski.
What if I refused a BAC test?
Refusing a blood alcohol concentration test while operating a motorized boat can have similar penalties as refusing a BAC test while driving an automobile. Penalties will vary by state, but if you refuse the BAC test you can expect for the BUI penalties to be enhanced.
Hiring a DUI lawyer
If you have been arrested for BUI it is a good idea to talk to a lawyer. Find someone who understands the laws of your state and who can review your BUI arrest.